We’ve been digging into the history of a house very close to our hearts; 29 Morrison Street, the home bought with our very first mortgage. Read on for some of the secrets we uncovered.
It’s 1875, the population of London has grown at an alarming rate and the unwashed bodies, sewage and coal fires are mounting to give way to what became known as the Great Stink. Families cram into dirty slums and outbreaks of cholera spread through the city.
29 Morrison Street was built as part of the Shaftesbury Park Estate in a far cleaner environment around Battersea. The estate, labelled the ‘Workman’s City’, was a welcome escape from the worsening conditions of central London. To mark this first step towards a better life, the words Healthy homes, first condition of social progress are etched into the foundation stone.
There were four levels of class applied to the houses built on Morrison Street and the surrounding estate.
29 Morrison Street itself was a third class home, which provided a total of six rooms, including kitchen, scullery and parlour, plus an outside toilet. Still a vast improvement on the central London slums.
The cost of such luxury? Alfred Idle, the first person to purchase the house, provided a £10 deposit, which was over a month’s wages for a skilled workman at the time*. To cover the rest, he took out a £200 mortgage and paid monthly installments of £1 14 shillings.
*Source: (This link will open in a new window)nationalarchives.gov.uk/
Alfred Idle was a Librarian Assistant with nine (yes nine) children. He worked at Mudie’s Circulating Library, at a time in Victorian Britain when books were still an expensive luxury. The library, with over 7 million books, allowed everyday people to access literature for less.
The house was later home to a retired sergeant, constantly regarded in service records as being ‘of very good character’. Following in his footsteps, the eldest son left 29 Morrison Street at 16 to enlist. He was sent to South Africa to fight in the Second Boer War and was awarded the Queen’s Medal. He, like his father, eventually acquired the rank of Sergeant and his records show him to have been of ‘exemplary character, a good clerk and an excellent penman’. Who knew calligraphy was a valued trait in a soldier?
But there’s always one who doesn’t quite fit the mould. Enter the younger brother, Thomas Kedge. Described as 5 feet 4 ½ inches tall with grey eyes, black hair and an anchor tattoo on his left arm. According to records he was accepted into the 4th Rifle Brigade at 15-years-old. By 1898 he’d been appointed Corporal (so far so good), but was reverted back to Private for ‘misconduct’. He was transferred to The Black Watch and stationed in Edinburgh, but was curiously discharged after only two years with no details given. Even in those days, families had their differences.
By 1915, the house’s new occupant had a highly impressive and unusual profession, as one of London’s first ever Motor Bus Drivers. In a period when the roads were still very much dominated by horses, he was paving the way for public transport. He was also the son of a Firework Artist (whatever that is), so interesting jobs ran in the family.
In 1927 four occupants of 29 Morrison Street boarded the Empress of Scotland in search of a better life in Canada. The travellers included two young men, a young woman and a nine-month old infant, who appeared on the ship’s records as the woman’s niece. It isn’t clear what the true relationship was between them, and particularly whose daughter the child really was, but at least one of the young men remained in Canada, and records of his life there exist right into the 1960s.
During the Second World War, Morrison Street was at serious risk of bombing, and at 6am on 17 July 1944 the worst happened. A V1 rocket fell on the street, completely destroying 20 houses, including numbers 37 (just four doors down) and 49. It was close, but number 29 remained standing.
Then finally, in 1958, after very little change to the house since construction, 29 Morrison Street was fitted with its first internal toilet! A feature which had come to many other houses in the area during the 1930s… better late than never.
From there, 29 Morrison Street saw a number of short-term renters coming and going. And in the 1970s, joined a London housing trend by becoming a shared rented space, rather than a single family home.
That is, until 2016, when a new family bought the house and began creating a 29 Morrison Street home history of their own.
The history of 29 Morrison Street was found using a variety of sources, from electoral registers, wills and probate to drainage plans. If you’re interested in the history of your house, original documents can be found in the National Archives as well as local county or borough record offices.